I’m a fracking NIMBY


I’ve been fuming for several years about the massive increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma, where I grew up. The USGS has tied the quakes directly to fracking’s disposal wells. My sister lives in Edmond, just north of Oklahoma City, and says they have quakes every day. My other sister lives a bit farther south, in north OKC, and she both felt and heard a big quake there just this week.

To those of you living in other parts of the country, this may not seem notable. But I’m incensed. I lived in Oklahoma City almost all my life, more than 55 years, and another 10 years in Edmond. And in all that time I felt only one earthquake. One! It was back in the 1950s when I was in grade school. (And yes, I realize there are many tiny quakes recorded by seismographs that are not felt by people on the surface.)

To add a different perspective: In 2015 Oklahoma had three times more quakes of magnitude 3 or greater than California — almost 600. This year it’s on track for 800.

Last year, after much foot dragging and opposition from the energy industry (Oklahoma’s largest), the Oklahoma Corporation Commission finally took some action, requiring them to reduce their wastewater injection volumes. It’s a wonder anything at all was done, considering the amount of money and influence being applied by the oil and gas industries and their wealthy investors.

I didn’t think I could get much angrier about the situation, short of owning a home in Oklahoma that was being damaged by the quakes. But I just read that in the wake of the USGS report and the state’s actions, leaders with the Oklahoma Insurance Department are urging residents to buy earthquake insurance!

What a racket. Take your profits by drilling disposal wells that cause countless earthquakes and quake damage. Then step up and urge residents to buy insurance against it. The residents should be suing instead.

Reminds me of the pharmaceutical companies dreaming up new “conditions” that their latest drugs can treat.

Earthquaketrack.com tracks quakes across the country using USGS data and this is one of their maps from Oklahoma this week:


Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 11.17.56 PM

And they include cheerful statistics like these:

Oklahoma City has had: (M1.5 or greater)

  • 4 earthquakes today
  • 15 earthquakes in the past 7 days
  • 42 earthquakes in the past month
  • 846 earthquakes in the past year

The largest earthquake in Oklahoma:

From News Channel 4 in Oklahoma City:

The most significant hazards from induced seismicity are in six states, listed in order from highest to lowest potential hazard: Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and Arkansas.

And you’d better believe the energy industry in Colorado is hard at work on this. There’s a fight going on in my city right now trying to stop the drilling of a new well within the city limits. That certainly will put me within quake range if it comes to that. Meanwhile, a bill to regulate fracking more closely (make the drillers responsible for damage, including quake damage) failed to get through Colorado’s legislature. And I can’t turn on the TV without seeing some commercial from the energy people telling me what good, environmentally conscious fellow Coloradans they are and how I’d be denying them their livelihoods if I opposed their fracking.

The only ray of hope in all this is that the price of oil is down and there likely won’t be a whole lot of new wells being drilled. For a while, at least.



*Quakes, of course, are but one of the issues with fracking.

21 thoughts on “I’m a fracking NIMBY

  1. It’s one big fracking problem all right! The analogy with Big Pharma is apt, although jobs are probably a larger factor. I’m glad Joplin isn’t in that area – tornados are enough. OKC is threatened by both – yikes.

    1. Well, I moved away from most of the tornado threat. But fracking is becoming a big issue here. Not as bad as Oklahoma yet, so maybe there’s time to stop it, or at least regulate it better. I was very disappointed when the regulatory bill here failed. The new wells are coming right into the Denver suburbs, or Denver is growing into them. Either way, it’s setting up as a direct confrontation. The scary thing is that in Okla. most of the wells are at some distance from OKC and its suburbs, and yet the quakes are still affecting the metro area.

  2. Interesting how many ways mankind can alter the subsurface! Mark Petersen, chief of the National Seismic Hazard Project for the U.S. Geological Survey, says “We consider induced seismicity to be primarily triggered by the disposal of wastewater into deep wells.” In his view, fracking isn’t the cause – it is the disposal of wastewater which can come from oil extraction processes in general, not just fracking. While fracking has been identified as the cause of some deep earthquakes, mining blasts and geothermal energy plants can also trigger earthquakes!

    1. I knew the disposal wells were the main source of fracking’s induced seismicity. I didn’t realize other oil extraction techniques also used disposal wells, especially since we’ve had oil wells all over OKC all my life, but no quakes until a few years ago. Perhaps they trucked the wastewater to distant uninhabited areas? I’ve been wondering if that wouldn’t help with the current problem in Okla., although it would obviously increase expenses for the energy companies. I’d be the first to say we need energy (preferably from renewable sources) and I understand mineral rights. But I still don’t think the energy companies should get drill at will if it means damaging existing property or property values. In any case, the frackers can’t claim Okla. bias when it’s the USGS making the case.

      1. According to this USGS site (http://www.usgs.gov/faq/categories/9833/7711) “The majority of the earthquakes in Oklahoma since 2011 occur in areas where oil is being produced by pumping massive volumes of water out of naturally fractured formations to extract much smaller volumes of oil. Most of the wells used to access the oil are completed without being fracked.”

      2. That may be so. But the contention is that it’s the wastewater disposal wells (water being pumped back into the ground) that’s causing the quakes.

      1. Well, the earthquakes are certainly unmistakable. And as far as I’m concerned, the USGS has erased all doubts about their cause. As for who will solve the problem, if, or when … who knows. There’s so much Big Money in energy, even the US govt. has trouble controlling it.

  3. The “side effects” of fracking were obvious from the start, and I feel they were ignored without any real science – except the energy company studies – being applied to analyze the problem. The whole concept of blasting geological formations and supposing they won’t adjust in some way is ridiculous. And I wonder too, about the water that supposedly compensates – where is it coming from? Is drought the next step? Comparatively, what coal mining has done to the earth’s crust is just a drop in the bucket.

    1. The water issue is probably the biggest concern in the west. I’ve heard they buy some of it from landowners and get some of it from the aquifers. Then once they’ve used it and polluted it, they pump it back into the ground or treat it and release it into local water supplies. Whatever the process. our water supply is scarce. It’s the most precious commodity in the west and is maintained/used in a very carefully controlled balance. I can’t see energy companies coming in and disrupting that at will, just so they can make a profit. There are good examples in Texas.

  4. The Oklahoma quakes are being felt in Wichita, KS, too. We’re moving back to Wichita after living 15 years in Castle Rock, CO, and 11 years in Tennessee and we bought earthquake insurance on our new house because of the recent quakes. It cost us $48/year for the addition of the quake coverage, but that’s with a $1600 deductible…

    1. I’m sorry to hear you’re leaving Colorado and moving (or returning) to the land of quakes and twisters. But that’s what insurance is for, I suppose. Here’s hoping you never have to file a claim.

  5. Some things about fracking may be debatable, but the most important concern is not. Chemicals used in treating the vast amounts of water used and subsequent disposal of the water create serious environmental problems. Fracking demands close and serious regulation by governments, and so far that is not the situation in many places. Oklahoma obviously needs tighter controls. And if other states don’t apply them, we’re at high risk of creating many other Oklahomas.

    1. I’ve read that Colorado is very strict about testing the water both before and after a well is fracked, to keep an eye on what the drillers are putting into the ground. But so far we are mostly losing in our efforts to keep wells away from populated areas. And I don’t know that we have any regulations in place making energy companies responsible for earthquakes and property damage caused by the disposal wells.

      Oklahoma has been oil and gas country since I was a child and there had been no real problems until the quakes started. The state has been reluctant to discipline the goose that lays the golden eggs.

  6. Since Senator Jim Inhofe, the senior Oklahoma senator, does not believe in global warming, I’m sure that he sees no correlation between man-made causes (fracking) and natural results (earthquakes) in his home state. As a result, you can depend upon him NOT to support the issues related to fracking.

    1. The man’s an idiot and a real embarrassment to the state, IMO. People like him make me glad I was finally able to move to Colorado. I love Oklahoma as the home it was for so long, and still is to three of my siblings and their families. It distresses me greatly to see what the politicians there are doing — or not doing.

  7. We are signed up for daily earthquake reports/notices. Stunning how many and where they hit – even around here. We have fault lines, but with the mushy soil any movement was pretty soft and turtle slow although it did/does happen and it pays to know where the fault are when buying a house.
    But so many of these areas recently that NEVER had sudden bucks and sifts are now. I know what they say, but it’s logical if you stuff or force high pressured mud/water in, any weak spots will give. I also worry about water tables for farms and ranches – and city water supplies. Drilling even old style can affect that. (And Jim is right about the waste water – most places require companies to truck in their own water and truck out contaminated water now….but to where?)
    There is a glut of oil on the world market – that has really slowed fracking and buying time for research/accepted evidence. We do not need to frack at this time, with so much available and for sale cheaply in other places. While this is true, we should be doing heavy research into better holding batteries for electric/solar/wind energy…and ones that are not so horrid for the environment to produce and dispose of. None of the alternative energies are there yet, – now’s the time to get moving on them.
    I do wish there was an optional national insurance program for flood, wind storm/ earthquake, hurricanes, tornadoes, mud slides, rock slides, dust storms…and all “natural disasters” that happen repeatedly. People should have to pay into the fund if they expect any FEMA/ or federal aid once something happens. You choose not to join the fund, fine, but if you don’t pay, not fed. assistance. It works for wind storm and flood federal insurance, but the problem is so many do not take responsibility and get the reasonably priced insurance offer – and they still whine and demand free money after the disaster hits.
    (OK siting down now and being quiet….)

    1. Don’t be quiet! You make excellent points. We should not be endangering our limited water supplies (especially here in the west) with a technology that needn’t be used. We should be working hard to further develop alternative sources of energy that do not endanger the environment — wind and solar. (But of course the big profits are in established energy sources, not developing new ones.) And yes, a national insurance program for natural disasters makes sense (even though it could be argued that quakes caused by disposal wells aren’t “natural,” nor was damage from the BP oil spill and others). A larger pool of insureds lowers the cost for everyone in the pool, while increasing the funds available for compensation. The problem is always getting people to join the pool in the first place.

      Wish we could get fire insurance covered in a national program. Property insurance in Colorado has soared in the last 10 years because of all the forest fires. And I don’t live anywhere near a forest.

      1. forest fires! How did I skip that. Definitely should be included. If the Feds cut all the free money and “help” after disasters, people might realized they’d better join the disaster pool…makes more sense for the country’s budget, too. Here there are places on the coastal waters you cannot get any insurance at all for…try to sell a house with that – mortgage companies will not fund them. So only the wealthy end up owning beach front? Great.
        One problem with the “new energy” sources over the last few years is that funding went to friends or people in high places…who didn’t always perform, sent jobs overseas instead, or spent then went bankrupt. Need penalties attached to funding? Need more solid vetting before handing out grants. Pickens and some of the wind people (GE) laughed and said they were in wind energy field (producing the windmills – we saw then on highways constantly) because the government subsidies were so high – when the subsidies throttled back, they got out of a “losing industry”. So much for perfecting/tweaking equipment and processes which always happens as an industry grows…

      2. Those huge gorgeous mountain homes the millionaires own — lots of luck with forest fires and fire insurance. You need a lot of money to be willing to take that risk.

        I don’t know what the answer is to keep investments going for developing technologies. Wind and solar need someone like Elon Musk who will fund and develop what he believes in, no matter what it costs.

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